“…from the government’s perspective, the land surrender was absolutely non-negotiable … in my opinion, the Cree leadership was aware of this and accepted it going into treaty, hence the lack of protracted discussion on this topic…” para 509
“I also agree with Dr. von Gernet’s opinion that the Cree were not indigenous to central Alberta, and were not present there until sometime after European contact, primarily due to their involvement in the European fur trade.” para 576
Teitelbaum J. in Samson Indian Nation and Band v. Canada,  2 C.N.L.R. 358; 2005 FC 136.
“First Nations need to join the 21st century, Their ancestral way of life is no longer viable due to demand on land and resources.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “First Nations groups protest pipeline proposal”.
“The reserves need to start paying taxes if they want better service.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “Water Access ‘a disaster’ on northern Man. reserves”.
“…I’m ready to say treaties be damned. This siphoning of money should have stopped a long time ago.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “First Nation offered $17M settlement“.
I could fill volumes with comments like those above…were volumes not already full of such sentiments.
The case law is flush with pronouncements like those made by Justice Teitelbaum. Legal findings of ‘fact’ in regards to the history, culture, traditions and realities of aboriginal peoples in Canada. ‘Facts’ which have direct consequences on native people and communities, whether the consequence is to deny them justice, or merely deny them altogether.
Historical texts and ‘experts’ inform these judicial opinions. They most certainly also influence the attitudes we see reflected in the comments made on any story dealing with native issues. The comments I chose were among the mildest, but their refrain is familiar.
It is hard to avoid the negativity. Whether you are native yourself or work on native issues, you’ve likely faced a host of prejudices, stereotypes, bizarre historical interpretations and the like.
There is poison in these words. maci-maskihkiy, and I mean that strongly. And man, can it get you down. I mean, really down.
Wiser people than me have all sorts of things to say about anti-racism discourse and action. Much has been said too about well-meaning liberals and their anti-oppression rhetoric which oft times promotes assimilation under the banner of liberal notions of equality. Discussing decolonisation and anti-racism and anti-oppression is good, and worth engaging in…but sometimes we need to step away from theory and take care of ourselves.
That is the purpose of this post. sôhkitêhêwin. sôhkitêhêtân!
It takes courage to stop internalising all the horrible things people say and believe about you. It takes bravery to face those things without becoming bitter and angry. It takes strength to keep going… and we need to give ourselves some credit. We are still here. These things still hurt because we are still here.
It’s not about developing a thicker skin. That just happens. I do think it is about knowing when to engage, and when to save your energy. It is about acknowledging what you have accomplished without expecting that you can fix it all. It’s about letting joy into your life despite the externally imposed injustice and the horizontal violence.
sôhkitêhêwin. To me it goes beyond the word ‘courage’…to me it means being rooted. It means intertwining my roots with the roots of others. It isn’t about standing alone.
I feel that our communities are the reason we are still a thorn in the side of Canada. Our communities have prevented us from being blown away like ashes. They root us. Disease, violence, Residential schools, the 60s sweep, poverty, injustice after injustice…we are still here…sôhkitêhêtân!
Even those of us now living urban, we can make community happen. Jeez, it doesn’t even matter if your urban community is made up of an assortment of Mohawk, Innu, Mi’gmaq, Cree and some Pacific Islanders…ha, suddenly you’re all pointing with your lips and scarfing down bannock and tea…
I need that. I really do. Maybe you do too. Maybe you have it. If you don’t, I hope you seek it out.
I find more strength, more sôhkitêhêwin, in the joking and chatting than I ever have in working on Aboriginal litigation or negotiation settlements. I don’t think I could do the work I do without a community. It would wear me down…it would make me quit.
I tell my daughters that sometimes, you have to ignore it when people tell lies about you, or offer ‘solutions’ that don’t make sense. I tell them this in the context of their school and their interactions with others in school, but I think it’s a good lesson for me too. I can’t stop people from saying and thinking bad things. I can’t single-handedly reform the Canadian approach to aboriginal peoples. I can’t fix everything that needs fixing.
But I can raise my head, and my voice, and I can intertwine my roots with those of my ancestors, and my children, and together we will have sôhkitêhêwin.